Last weekend was the New Mexico Organics Conference. Celebrating 25 years, they noted that the market has ballooned to millions of $$$$ in sales, increasing at least 400% since it’s inception. The place was thronging with all ages. The attire ranged from heels and fancy clothes, coveralls, pointy toed cowboy boots/ hats to t-shirts and tattoos. There was the white haired veteran farmers with ruddy complexions and the hat tan-line on their forehead. There were the diminutive women with weathered brown skin who worked the land. I decided on New Mexico casual with hiking boots and my Patagonia jacket, hair tied back as I hosted a table for Bee City USA (http://beecityusa.org/)and signups to match organic farmers with beekeepers, with my friend Sarah. But particularly noticeable were the young people. The younger generation surrounded us like a river of enthusiasm (which my husband tells me comes from the Greek “to be filled with God”) bearing us all along and inspiring us with their curiosity and incredible creativity.
The weekend was full of fascinating booths for aspiring farmer wannabes and those who were actually making farming work. Food samples and pollinator hotels for sale. Alternatives to insecticides and herbicides. Catalogues of Beneficials filled with Green Lacewings, Ladybugs and Praying Mantis’. A lions share of soil health workshops, including Bovine Soil Builders ( evidently a booming field ). There was compost tea, seed saving, winter greens, aquaponics, biodynamics, Goats, chickens, bees, funghi and how to grow your business plan. I would say it was heady stuff, except that it was all grounded in the humble dirt. It felt like coming home, being a farmer’s daughter.
But the most moving part of the weekend was the Saturday morning panel of Organic “pioneers”. Each of the 3 men and 1 woman on the panel were there to talk about those first years of doing something so crazy to their traditional farmer neighbors that they often became objects of ridicule, fear and anger. What if those wacko organic farmers infect my field with pesticides and weeds they don’t”control”? How can you be a real farmer without an arsenal of chemicals in your toolbox?
As these early pioneer organic farmers began to wake up and smell the death knell of poisons on their soil, fearful of their children’s health, many of them struck out on their own, without any mentorship. It was a steep learning curve for all of them—from organic pecans to lambs, cotton and biodynamic gardens. And yet they persevered. Many of us were moved to laughter and tears over and over, sitting there at our tables, filled up with a delicious farmers breakfast, gratis of these many hardworking stewards of the land. Each farmer rolled up their sleeves, telling us they hated public speaking and would rather be at home in their fields. Yet one by one they came to the mic, holding us enchanted with their droll jokes and powerful stories.
As one man from the Livestock Board said later, “I didn’t know I was coming to a religious event today”! It was sacred ground. Clearly the farmers had a deep sense of reverence and care for the land and animals in their charge. And by the way, it paid about double if one was willing to direct market your product. That was the catch. It was why they were willing to risk “the way we’ve always done it”.
We all left with hope in our bones, and inspiration for the tasks ahead.
The message from all of them was “perseverance, perseverance, perseverance”. Clearly a sense of humor was also useful.
These days I need to hear this message. Perseverance. With the advent of my new Think Like A Bee non-profit, incorporated with the State of NM at the end of December 2015, I have been up to my eyeballs in paperwork. The learning curve is as big as Alaska somedays. Now it’s time to fund raise, which is something I have always dreaded. But, as I find myself ankle deep in grants, writing collaborative projects with farmers and acequia guardians and seed savers, weirdly, I find I’m actually enjoying myself.
And my Bee City USA initiative with the City of Albuquerque? It is a new adventure everyday—an ever widening circle of contacts as I spread the word and strategize for policy changes. I am deeply heartened by ordinary everyday folks in the neighborhoods I visit as they tell me stories of how they care for pollinators—birds, bats, bees, butterflies.
On the days that I almost despair because no “big” break through has happened. I go and stand among my bees, flying now with the advent of warm weather. And I begin to recount all the myriad and small ways I have been graciously and providentially cared for in this time of such huge vocational transition. I think that’s what farmers know. Its the daily small graces that add up to make it all worth it.
Just the other day, my friend called me with a windfall for my winter bees, hungry from a lean time. She said our fellow beekeeper had lost all his hives but one and was granting us his honey and hives. While I give Charlie my condolences, his gracious kindness will allow my girls who did survive to hopefully thrive this Spring.